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Know your rights

One of the biggest problems workers face is a lack of awareness about what our legal rights are. If we don’t know what we’re entitled to, it may mean we are missing out on something. This guide outlines some of your basic rights. It’s not a comprehensive list, but we hope it helps!

Some rights at work depend on your employment status, and some depend on how long you’ve been working in a given workplace, but these are the rights which all workers are entitled to from their first day of employment:


You are entitled to be told, in writing, how much you will be paid and when your wages will be paid. The hourly rate for the minimum wage depends on your age and whether you’re an apprentice. You must be at least school leaving age to get the National Minimum Wage, or you must be aged 25 or over to get the National Living Wage (the minimum wage still applies to workers aged 24 and under). You can check current and past National Minimum and National Living Rates here.

London Living Wage

The living wage is calculated annually by the Resolution Foundation and overseen by the Living Wage Commission. It is calculated as the minimum amount required for a worker to meet their basic needs. Find out more information on the London Living Wage here:

Many London universities have committed to paying all their workers the London Living Wage.

Leave: holiday, sick, maternity and paternity

Almost all workers are entitled to at least 5.6 weeks paid leave per year (which is 28 days if you work five days a week). This includes agency workers, workers with irregular hours and workers on zero-hours contracts. Any employment contract should set out leave entitlements. If it doesn’t, then 5.6 weeks must be given (which can include public holidays). If you are unsure of how much leave you are entitled to, you can use this tool to calculate it.

You are entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP) if you normally earn over £116 per week and have been ill for at least 4 days in a row (including non-working days). The days you’re off sick when you normally would have worked are called ‘qualifying days’ and you can expect to receive SSP for all but the first 3 ‘qualifying days’ (which are known as ‘waiting days’). Statutory sick pay is currently £92.05 per week, and it is paid by your employer for us to 28 weeks.

If you become pregnant and choose to become a parent, you will be entitled to 26 weeks paid maternity leave and 26 weeks unpaid leave regardless of how long you have worked at the company, provided you give you employer notice of your due date and when you wish to start your leave (this must be at least 15 weeks before the due date, known as the ‘qualifying week’).

To receive statutory maternity (SMP) pay you must be earning over £116 per week and you have been working continuously for that employer for over 26 weeks by the ‘qualifying week’). SMP is paid for up to 39 weeks. You get 90% of your average weekly earnings for the first 6 weeks, then £145.18 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks.

Maternity Allowance is usually paid to you if you don’t qualify for SMP. The amount you get depends on your eligibility – you can find out more information and calculate your eligibility here.

When you take time off because your partner is having a baby, adopting a child or having a baby through a surrogacy arrangement you may be eligible for one to two weeks paternity leave, paternity pay and shared parental leave and pay. This applies if you are the father of the baby, the husband or partner of the mother/adopter (including same-sex partners), the child’s adopter or the intended parent (if having a baby through surrogacy). The statutory weekly rate of paternity pay is £145.18, or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower). You can find out more information about paternity pay and leave here.

Hours & breaks

You cannot be made to work more than 48 hours in a single week. This law is sometimes called the ‘working time directive’ or ‘working time regulations’. You can choose to work more by opting out of the 48-hour week.

You also are entitled to:

  • a rest break of at least 20 minutes for every 6 hours of continuous work during a single shift (such as a tea break or a lunch break).

  • at least 11 hours’ rest in each 24-hour period.

  • an uninterrupted 24 hours without any work each week or an uninterrupted 48 hours without any work each fortnight.

Equality and Diversity

Workers are also covered by equality legislation. Equality law applies regardless of the size of the organisation, the number of employees or the type of the work. Under the Equality Act 2010 it is against the law to discriminate against anyone because of certain ‘protected characteristics’, which are:

  • Age

  • Disability

  • Gender reassignment

  • Marriage and Civil Partnership

  • Pregnancy and maternity

  • Race

  • Religion and belief

  • Sex

  • Sexual Orientation

Discrimination can come in one of the following forms:

  • direct discrimination - treating someone with a protected characteristic less favourably than others

  • indirect discrimination - putting rules or arrangements in place that apply to everyone, but that put someone with a protected characteristic at an unfair disadvantage

  • harassment - unwanted behaviour linked to a protected characteristic that violates someone’s dignity or creates an offensive environment for them

  • victimisation - treating someone unfairly because they’ve complained about discrimination or harassment

If you feel you have been discriminated against, you can complain directly to the person/organisation, use someone else to help you resolve it (known as ‘mediation’ or alternative dispute resolution’) or make a claim in a court or tribunal.

Representation at work

In the university you are represented by the students’ union; in the work place you are represented by trade unions. There are a number of different trade unions to represent people who work in different industries or sectors. Trade unions are democratic, with elected local branches and national representatives. Trade Unions can support you if you are facing any problems with your employment and they campaign to protect and increase your conditions and benefits at work.

More information about joining a trade union can be found here, along with a list of trade unions compiled by the Certification Officer (the independent organisation responsible for the legal regulation of unions).